The Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona played host to Saturday’s massive UFC 263 event in front of a crowd that was not afraid to voice their opinion. When all was said and done, the UFC saw Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya retain his championship in the main event, a new champion and superstar with Brandon Moreno winning the Flyweight Championship in the co-main event, and solidified superstar Nate Diaz losing yet somehow still picking up some momentum as only Nate Diaz can.
- Brandon Moreno: Undoubtedly the biggest winner of the night was the UFC’s new Flyweight champion, Brandon Moreno. Moreno now becomes the first Mexican-born champion the UFC has ever seen, a market that they have been trying to break into for years. Moreno was treated to incredible fan appreciation all week, which came to no surprise to UFC president Dana White, who noted that the Tiajuana, Mexico native was fighting only 5 hours from his hometown. However, the fan reactions surprised many, leaving people surprised and questioning just how big of a star Moreno already was and how big of a star he could become if he were to win the championship. Moreno even asked White if he thought he was a star at the pre-fight press conference, to which White responded “if you win this fight you’re gonna blow up in Mexico.” And blow up he did. After Moreno defeated champion Deiveson Figueiredo via rear-naked choke in the 3rd round, the crowd exploded, and the emotions began pouring out for Moreno. In fact, if you didn’t smile while watching Moreno getting the belt put on him for the first time and listening to his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, you may not be human. If Moreno was receiving the amount of fan support that he got before he won the belt, it’s fun to imagine the amount of support he’ll get now and in the future heading into his championship defenses. The UFC has found themselves a legitimate new superstar.
- Nate Diaz: Yes, that’s right. Even in defeat, Nate Diaz still somehow found a way to make his stock rise. In the UFC’s first-ever non-main event, non-championship 5 round fight, Diaz pulled out some of the most… unique tactics we’ve seen from him. Diaz ended up losing to Leon Edwards by unanimous decision after a 5 round war, but it was not without hope for Diaz. With roughly 1:03 left in the fight, Diaz landed a straight left on Edwards that severely wobbled Edwards. However, Diaz would face criticism from some for only pointing at Edwards immediately after the shot landed instead of trying to close the show. Regardless, the fans left thinking that perhaps if there were only 1 more minute in the fight, Diaz could have pulled off the victory after all. This allowed him to walk away looking good after this performance since he came in as such a large underdog (+405) and yet was still able to nearly pull off a victory after almost 2 years away from the octagon. Diaz would later admit in his post-fight press conference that he lost motivation to continue training after a cut he suffered in training forced this fight to be pushed back a month. However, he also mentioned that he did want to fight again in 2021. Perhaps a rematch with Jorge Masvidal could be next since both fighters are coming off losses in the Welterweight division, and Diaz will continue to look for fights that could catapult him into title contention.
- Israel Adesanya: Admittedly there’s not as much to say about this one. Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya went out once again and proved why he is the undisputed king at 185 pounds. Earning a unanimous decision win via 50-45 scorecards from all three judges over Marvin Vettori, Adesanya made it look relatively easy and never really seemed to be in too much danger. In fact, he was even mocking Vettori in the middle of the fight on a few occasions. Short of finishing Vettori, this was about the best Adesanya could have looking, leaving absolutely no question who the better fighter and rightful champion was at the end of the night.
- Marvin Vettori: Middleweight title challenger Marvin Vettori did himself absolutely no favors over the course of the fight week. Vettori came into the fight already facing a fan favorite in champion Israel Adesanya. He didn’t exactly earn any more fans in the way he acted at the pre-fight press conference by constantly interrupting and shouting over Adesanya, and then getting out of his seat before having to be held back by security. All week he came off as an angry hothead. None of this was helped by his lackluster performance which saw him lose decisively. When the fight was over, Adesanya attempted to go squash the beef between the two. When Adesanya attempted to go show respect afterward, Vettori allegedly told Adesanya that he thought Vettori won the fight. Vettori had previously claimed that he had also won their first meeting in 2018, a fight which Vettori in fact lost via split decision. Typically fighters in this position can at least win some new fans by being humble in defeat and looking to rework their way back up to title contention. This kind of delusion by claiming false victories combined with a lackluster performance and angry personality lead to a lot of boos and hate towards Vettori going into and coming out of the fight.
- Deiveson Figueiredo: To put it simply, the champion looked like a shell of himself in this fight. Figueiredo’s defense of his Flyweight championship against Brandon Moreno almost didn’t happen as Figueiredo weighed in with only 40 seconds remaining, barely making weight and bursting into tears afterward. It has been no secret in the past that Figueiredo has struggled to make the cut to 125 pounds. Moreno even commented about this after the fight, saying he thinks it’s time that Figueiredo seriously considers a move up to Bantamweight. Figueiredo’s fight performance itself seemed to have suffered from this weight cut as well, after coming out very hesitant in the first round, unlike his former explosive knockout-seeking self. In fact, Figueiredo was dropped by Moreno in the first round from a jab. After eventually being finished via a rear-naked choke in the 3rd round, Figueiredo almost seemed relieved afterward, celebrating Moreno’s title win along with him, even picking the new champ up and showing him off to the supportive crowd. Figueiredo has had a commanding reign over the Flyweight division for a while now, but after seeming like a shell of his former self, it’s time for him to seriously considering either refining his weight cut process or moving up to Bantamweight.
Hard to Tell:
- Leon Edwards: It’s a bit hard to tell where Leon Edwards’ stock lands after this fight. On the one hand, Edwards did what was expected of him as a -360 favorite by earning a decision win over Nate Diaz. On the other hand, you can make the argument that this win doesn’t get him any closer to a Welterweight title shot since he was almost finished with less than a minute left in the fight by an unranked fighter who hadn’t fought since 2019. Despite the fact that Edwards put on a relatively dominant performance, it seems the talk is more about Diaz’s near-win rather than Edwards’ performance after the dust has settled. Perhaps that’s to be expected when fighting a superstar like Diaz, though.